Like many people, entrepreneur and former Israeli tech journalist turned insurtech founder Liri Halperin never expected she would end up in the insurance business. But an insurance buying experience almost four years ago made her realize an insurtech opportunity that has since become a successful startup.
“I just needed to buy renters insurance for my apartment, and I was amazed to see how inefficient my agent was. I don’t blame him because I knew that he had to do things manually, and he didn’t have the right tools to provide the best customer experience that I needed,” she said.
It was that transaction that made Halperin think, “Okay, something needs to change in this industry,” and the company that became LeO was born.
The artificial intelligence (AI)-powered service provides customer support to LeO’s insurance clients through chatbots. It also collects and analyzes customer data to help the insurance industry improve its service and increase its return on investment, according to the company.
“In LeO we always say that we are not saving time. We give time. We give time to the carriers and the agencies to really invest more in their relationships and to grow from there,” Halperin said.
Halperin discussed how she turned $2 million from private investors and a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority into a growing insurtech currently working with dozens of insurance agencies and three major global insurance companies. The company is in the process of launching chatbots for major players here in the United States.
Insurance Journal (IJ): Did you have any experience in the insurance space before you started LeO?
Halperin: No. I am an entrepreneur and LeO is my third startup. My previous startup is still operating in the U.S. and is more of an eCommerce platform. Before that, I had one of the leading websites in Israel for consumers. Before that, I was actually a journalist. So yeah, I didn’t know a lot about insurance, and that’s why it was so important for me to build a team combined with people that are experts in insurance and also with people that are AI experts that can build a platform.
IJ: How is your AI-product different than others in the market?
Halperin: There are chatbots out there, but most of them are not focusing on insurance. We understood that in order to be the best in that field and to speak the language and to understand the processes, we needed to focus only on insurance, and that’s what we did from day-one. We built the system from scratch, so we have full flexibility to build the processes in a way that we don’t need to send the customers to finish the process outside of the chatbot. You can enroll payments, you can fill out forms, you can do everything from the chatbot … We also have people that know insurance so we can be aligned with the regulation of the geographical industry that we work with — if it’s in Israel, in Europe, or in the States … Also, the insurance industry still uses a lot of legacy systems … we know how to integrate with those, and we know those systems.
IJ: What have been some of the challenges of starting an insurtech like LeO?
Halperin: When we really started like three years ago, insurtech was only in the beginning … Not a lot of people knew what insurtech is … So, you needed to find the people that you can really speak with in the carriers, in an agency and in the brokerages. It wasn’t so clear. It was like wild west for a startup to start in that industry. Today, you can see the change and you can see that those carriers and agencies, they are looking for innovation. They know that they have to adopt the innovation in order to create a competitive advantage. It’s started to be much easier to start a conversation with them.
IJ: Did you face any specific challenges with being taken seriously or convincing people that you knew what you were talking about as a woman in such a male-dominated field?
Halperin: I didn’t really feel that and I don’t feel that now, but you can see that when you go to conferences and you sit in meetings, you have only a few women there or maybe you will be the only woman out there. And it’s okay, because you knew that you started in an industry that still, like you said, most of the people there are men. There was a really interesting study from McKinsey that showed … only 18% [of women] are in C-level roles in the insurance industry, which is really sad to see. I sat on a panel at InsurTech Connect in Vegas next to Amy Zupon, the CEO of Vertafore, and it was really encouraging to see a [female] CEO of such a company. It’s so important to have role models like her, so more women will see that it’s an option to be a CEO of these huge companies and to open startups … I encourage more women to do that.
Halperin said she doesn’t encounter many women in the insurtech space but has made advocating for women in executive roles a personal crusade. When she started LeO in 2017, she also founded Parliament 51, a social impact venture that aims to achieve equal opportunities for women in the workplace. In March, she spoke at the United Nations “Private Sector Wisdom to Crack Gender Equality,” forum as part of the UN’s International Women’s Day event.
IJ: What does Parliament 51 do, and how did you get involved in the U.N. event?
Halperin: We wrote a statement of principle [for Parliament 51] that speaks about payment equality and mentoring and programs that a company needs to have in order to promote women for executive roles. There were a lot of companies that signed the statement of principle, like Google, Facebook, Dell, WeWork, Salesforce and many others. Other than that, we provide a lot of practical tools and tips to the management team: How to promote women, how to retain women, how to recruit women, how not to lose them when they go on maternity leave, and how to encourage them to take more executive roles. You can see men and women coming from the management teams and women want to learn how to do that, but they don’t have the tools. We have all these workshops and seminars that we do … and the U.N. invited us to speak about it.
IJ: Is the insurtech space more diverse than the rest of the insurance industry?
Halperin: I can tell you that in my community, I see women that are CEOs and co-founders of insurtech startups. There was also a competition at InsurTech Connect where more than 100 women applied to get into this competition … but it was from all over the world. Those kind of initiatives promote women to go and promote their startups and, as I said, to be a role model for other women entrepreneurs.
IJ: What is your goal for LeO over the next 24 months?
Halperin: We have had great growth and we are definitely looking to invest in that … Our vision is that two years from now, LeO will be the best employee in the agency and for the carriers, and it will be an employee that will take care of the customer service and the sales processes, the customer-facing processes while freeing the other members of the team and the other representatives to focus more on growth and relationships with their clients. We believe that really, that’s what insurance is all about, right? Investing in relationships and making your customers feel assured they are covered and you’re giving them the best advice.
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